Guest Essay: Mercy for Animals and Cage-Free Duplicity

This is a guest essay written by Linda McKenzie, a long-time Abolitionist advocate.


Mercy for Animals and Cage-Free Duplicity

Linda McKenzie

Part 1

Mercy For Animals (MFA) is a classic example of welfarist organizations that make a habit of talking out of both sides of their mouths, and of saying one thing while doing another. There is much that could be said, and has been said, by way of criticism of this organization. MFA was one of the groups that joined with Peter Singer in 2005 in signing the infamous and shameful letter to John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods, to express their “appreciation and support” for Whole Foods’ supposedly “pioneering” standards of animal exploitation, thus inaugurating the “happy” exploitation movement. According to Mackey, MFA actually helped to create these standards, which allow the consumer to choose the level of animal torture they wish to purchase.

MFA and the other groups involved have been asked in an Open Request to retract their endorsement for “happy” exploitation. To date none have done so, including MFA.

The title alone of this organization, involving “Mercy,” is problematic. As Gary Francione points out, “Our obligations to non-human animals are not a matter of charity or mercy; they are a matter of fundamental justice.”

But in this essay I want to focus on MFA’s position regarding cage-free eggs. MFA condemns cage-free eggs here, here and here as not “cruelty-free,” and not “what you think,” that is, not “humane;” as involving overcrowding, no access to outdoors, painful mutiliations without anesthesia, maceration of live baby male chicks, and violent slaughter of hens when their egg production slows.

How to explain, then, that MFA relentlessly promotes cage-free eggs? Yes, that’s right. They promote cage-free eggs although they acknowledge that cage-free eggs involve all sorts of cruelty. MFA’s blog page, the same one that condemns cage-free eggs, features numerous entries—nineteen in the space of a year—celebrating MFA’s “success” in convincing retail food businesses to “pledge” to adopt a cage-free egg policy, typically to be implemented by 2025-6. This intensive campaign continues, currently targeting food retailers in Brazil.

MFA’s focus on fundraising via welfare reforms means that they have always been in the business of promoting animal exploitation, since welfare reform necessarily promotes animal exploitation. This previously included some focus on welfare reform in the egg industry and support for cage-free campaigns carried out by other groups. But MFA’s corporate cage-free egg campaign kicked off with a vengeance when they accepted a grant from the Open Philanthropy Project (OPP) for $1,000,000 in February 2016. Since then, MFA have accepted a further $1,000,000 from OPP for “International Cage-Free Advocacy,” as well as $1,000,000 to promote “Broiler Chicken Welfare Corporate Campaigns,” and $500,000 for “India Animal Welfare Reform.”

OPP also gave grants to fund cage-free egg campaigns to The Humane League (whose founder, Nick Cooney, is now Director of Education at MFA), The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and Compassion in World Farming. All of these are traditional welfarist organizations, with no goal of ever abolishing animal use, but only of supposedly improving the treatment of farmed animals and promoting the continuing consumption of animal products. OPP is itself a blatantly welfarist organization of the same persuasion. MFA’s aligning itself with this lot shows that they have abandoned any pretence to being a “new welfarist” organization that sees abolition of animal exploitation as the ultimate goal that can supposedly be achieved through welfare reform, and are competing for the same donor market as the traditional welfarist groups. It appears that MFA wants to graduate from being “HSUS lite” to being the equivalent of HSUS.

At first, OPP were wary of giving a grant to MFA. They stated that they were initially concerned by the fact that “MFA did not view cage-free egg campaigns as a priority” and by the “negative blog post” (previously cited) that criticised cage-free conditions as not humane. OPP must have missed the December, 2014, MFA e-letter containing a press release from a PR firm on behalf of MFA in which MFA promoted cage-free eggs:

With the enactment of Prop 2, California is leading the way towards a society in which farmed animals are treated with the respect they so rightly deserve,” says Nathan Runkle, president of Mercy For Animals. “As a civilized nation, it is our moral obligation to protect all animals, including animals raised and killed for food, from needless suffering. It’s time for egg producers nationwide to end the cruel and inhumane confinement of hens in wire cages so small they cannot walk, spread their wings, or engage in most natural behaviors.

This cheerleading for cage-free eggs occurred only one and a half months after MFA condemned cage-free eggs in the blog post that worried OPP. In response, Gary Francione criticised Runkle’s statement as a morally repugnant betrayal of animals, pointing out that it’s outrageous to characterise cage-free conditions as amounting to “respect” for the poor birds trapped in them.

As it happened, OPP’s doubts about providing MFA with a grant were assuaged when Runkle reassured them that “MFA’s position on cage-free conditions for egg-laying hens is that they are significantly better than battery cage conditions (though they are not perfect), and that they are an important step in improving hen welfare.” This was a reiteration of his position on cage-free eggs given in a Talk to Google in 2013 (42 minutes, 16 seconds) in which he referred to cage-free eggs as a “business decision.” Runkle stating that MFA “plans to make cage-free egg campaigns a priority” also helped clinch the grant. Indeed, OPP were later to say that, “As a result of this grant, cage-free advocacy has become the primary focus of MFA’s corporate outreach efforts in 2016.”

Announcement of grant for MFA to promote animal exploitation

Runkle clearly did a sterling job of convincing OPP that MFA is fully committed to selling out animals in return for a hefty grant, and that any former objections to exploiting chickens for cage-free eggs could be safely disregarded. To say that cage-free conditions are “not perfect” beggars belief for its hideous misrepresentation of the misery that these conditions constitute for chickens. “Significantly better” means that the birds are still tortured, perhaps slightly less, and still meet the same premature and violent death in a horrifying slaughterhouse, with the built-in prospect of being boiled alive. This is what Runkle demonstrated his alacrity to promote, making MFA a partner with the egg industry. With friends like this, the animals do not need enemies, willing to trade away their interests in exchange for money.

For their part, OPP obviously judge that MFA have made good on their commitment such that they are now funding them to the tune of $1,000,000, for openers at least, to promote “higher welfare,” that is, supposedly more humanely raised chicken meat. Runkle and his colleagues are being richly rewarded for their willingness to betray animals.

One thing is clear: corporate welfarist groups like MFA are not only in partnership with commercial animal exploiters; they are commercial animal exploiters. They are the sector of the animal exploitation industry that helps legitimise it to the public. They reassure us that we can continue exploiting with a clear conscience. Just switch to cage-free eggs and you’re doing fine by animals. Give yourself a big pat on the back for being a “compassionate” consumer.

Part 2

MFA’s regular self-congratulations on the “success” of their cage-free egg campaign typically conclude with some version of, “Of course, the best way to help animals is to leave eggs off your plate” whereupon readers are directed to a “Vegetarian (note: not “Vegan”) Starter Guide” which predictably promotes the standard welfarist baby steps, “vegetarian,” “meatless,” “cut out the worst suffering,” “plant-based before 6 PM,” reducetarian, flexitarian, excusitarian approach. Bizarrely, but completely consistently, the Guide highlights non-vegan celebrities as being the “good company” that readers are in and presumably ought to emulate. Even MFA’s statements explicitly encouraging veganism link to this decidedly non-vegan Guide.

Moreover, characterising not eating eggs (or other animal products) as “best” is tantamount to saying that other measures are also good and worthwhile. So eating eggs, as long as they are cage-free, is a good and praiseworthy thing to do. That is, knowingly and needlessly inflicting all of the horrors inherent in cage-free eggs, to which MFA claim to object, is something that, in practice, MFA positively endorses. There is simply no other way to interpret these statements, coupled with MFA’s actions. No amount of vegan recipes on their Facebook page changes this one iota.

The “V” Word?

MFA has an entire web page trying—and failing—to justify why the organization refuses to consistently use what it calls “the V word,” as though saying “vegan” is akin to using a swear word. They cite pseudoscience in a spurious attempt to back up this abdication of responsibility to communicate a clear vegan message. Executive director, Nathan Runkle, proclaims himself a “vegetarian,” not a vegan. Here’s Runkle trashing veganism and making it crystal clear that he does not regard it as a moral imperative (at 44 minutes, 30 seconds):

Q: Is even non-factory farming ethical since the animals are still killed?

Runkle answered:

You know, I don’t think that the world or life is ever in black-and-white terms…Now, we certainly think that a vegan diet is, in most situations, the most ethical, compassionate, environmentally friendly choice that we can make, so, of course, we hold that as the gold standard. But, we understand that there are gradations along the lines of agriculture…So, we think people need to know what the choices are…Do I think that we should be killing the cow rather than eating carrots? Probably carrots would be a better choice, for me, ethically. You know, if I don’t have to take a life and be violent, probably wouldn’t. But there are people who just don’t share that belief…

In most situations”? “Probably”? The speciesism here is astonishing. The abuse of the word, “ethical,” is monumental. Veganism is not a matter of “compassion.” It’s a matter of fundamental justice. It’s a moral obligation, not an optional lifestyle “choice.”

Earlier in the same talk, at 34 minutes, 40 seconds: “So by making some dietary changes, by eliminating meat on Mondays, by reducing our meat consumption, becoming a flexitarian or becoming a full-blown vegan we can help spare animals this suffering.”

Here Runkle explicitly gives his stamp of approval to the continuing consumption of animal products and engages in dishonesty about how this helps “spare animals this suffering.” And there is no such thing as a “full-blown vegan.” You are either a vegan or you are not. You are either vegan or you are engaging in animal exploitation. There is no third option.

Here is a clip of Runkle’s talk where he rejects veganism as a moral imperative:

Leaving aside the fact that MFA rejects veganism as a moral imperative, why are they expending a huge amount of resources on promoting what is, by their own definition, not best for animals, and what they admit involves torture and death for animals? The answer is clear: welfare reforms are an endless source of fundraising dollars. Each new “pledge” to adopt whatever token measure MFA is proposing by some far off date in the future—if it happens at all—is cause for shouts of “Victory!,” “Success!” and “Progress!” This is used to justify yet more calls for donations from the public to ensure more “success” and attracts large grants from OPP and other large donors. Welfare reforms allow this cycle to continue indefinitely—it’s a never-ending non-vegan gravy train. As a business model, it’s very successful. Some would even call it a brilliant scam. It’s just a pity about the poor animals who get sold out, every time.

If we consider the massive resources in money, time and energy poured into convincing food companies to engage in “happy” (actually brutal) exploitation of birds for their eggs—including staff salaries, undercover investigations, petitions, leafleting, advertisements, blog posts, Facebook posts, mass letter-writing to companies, demonstrations, as well as all the advising of, and schmoozing with, decision-makers in animal exploitation companies—we get an idea of what a tragic lost opportunity this represents for bringing about justice for animals. Imagine what could be achieved if all of this was devoted to abolitionist vegan education, the only thing that can lead to the abolition of animal exploitation.

So there we have it. MFA say that cage-free eggs are “not cruelty-free;” not “humane.” But MFA is paid millions of dollars to promote cage-free eggs. In aggressively promoting cage-free eggs they promote all of the suffering and death they claim to condemn. This they grotesquely call “success,” “progress,” a “victory” and “good news” for animals. While pumping out this “happy” exploitation propaganda, there are statements currently standing on MFA’s websites against cage-free eggs. While claiming not to support cage-free eggs, MFA are prioritising the promotion of cage-free eggs.

It is, truly, an “animal confusion” movement.

It‘s absolutely clear that if you support MFA, or other groups like them, you’re contributing to animal exploitation. You’re paying them to disseminate the obscenity of “happy” exploitation. All that MFA are doing with their cage-free egg campaign is to encourage people to feel good about consuming eggs while continuing to inflict gratuitous torture and brutal death on innocent, vulnerable beings.

MFA, and the other groups like MFA, claim to be opposed to animal exploitation but they actually promote animal exploitation. They make the excuse that they can’t take a firm moral position because they don’t want to tell people what to do. But if we are engaged in a social justice movement then we must take a position against the violations of fundamental rights. We have a moral duty to the victims to insist that these violations should stop. We must argue for the end of all animal use, and that requires promoting veganism unequivocally as the moral baseline. We should be promoting the abolition of slavery; we should not be promoting that slave owners beat their slaves more gently and declaring “victory” when the slave-owners agree. Until we get clear on this, the mainstream “animal movement” will continue to be a massive failure.

MFA is just one example—albeit a glaring one—of the way that corporate animal charities talk out of both sides of their mouths. Apparently, they’re hoping we wont notice the duplicity and keep on donating.



If you care about animals, if you think they matter morally and are not just things, then veganism is a moral imperative. Learn more about veganism here.




©2017 by Linda McKenzie
























Some Thoughts in Anticipation of the Podcast Discussion to Which Sivarama Swami Has Agreed


On September 1, 2017, a Hare Krishna adherent named Sivarama Swami posted a video on Facebook entitled, Can Vegans Consume Milk?. I watched the video and I was disturbed by it. I posted this on the Abolitionist Approach Facebook page:

There is a Hare Krishna person named Sivarama Swami who is claiming that vegans can consume milk that is produced without violence. Let’s be clear about two things:

1. Vegans do not consume any animal products. All animal products involve animal exploitation. All animal products involve violence. There is no way around that simple and indisputable fact.

2. “Ahimsa milk” is complete nonsense. Here’s a link that concerns animal exploitation in dairy produced by those involved in the Hare Krishna movement. In any event, there can be no dairy without Himsa.

I have invited Sivarama Swami to debate me on this matter, either in a podcast or in person.

In response to my invitation, I received assurances from an administrative assistant of Sivrarama Swami that the latter would engage me in a podcast as soon as he had the time. I also listened to a recording made by Sivarama Swami in response to some of the criticisms he had received. I then posted this:

Partial Response by Sivarama Swami

I have been assured that Sivarama Swami is going to engage me in a podcast as soon as he has time. I sincerely look forward to that podcast and I appreciate Sivarama Swami’s commitment to do the podcast.

I note that Sivarama Swami did do a recorded general response to some of the criticisms he’s received (many of which have unfortunately been removed from the Facebook thread even though they were completely respectful) from his promotion of consuming dairy. That recorded response can be found here.

In anticipation of our discussion, I had some preliminary thoughts that I look forward to discussing with Sivarama Swami.

He says that the problem is that veganism is a “materialistic” philosophy and that we need only to do what God says we should do. Now, I would maintain that veganism has a very strong spiritual aspect rooted in the commitment to Ahimsa (as well as in various doctrines of moral realism). But let’s put that aside for now.

I am curious as to the authority for the proposition that the consumption of milk is mandatory. Does Sivarama Swami maintain that the consumption of milk is required as a matter of religious duty? He certainly seems to say that because he says, among other things, that the Dharma of a cow is to give milk and the Dharma of a bull is to work and he says clearly and explicitly on that recorded message that it is violence to not respect those Dharmas. So to not consume milk or work bulls is violence. Therefore, their use for these purposes must be required. There’s really no other way to understand what he says here. Given that many Hare Krishna devotees are vegan, then those people are, according to Sivarama Swami, acting contrary to religious duty. They are acting contrary to what God wants them to do.

I must say that I am skeptical about this.

Moreover, even if there is authority for the proposition that milk consumption is required, that cannot end the matter. All religions have texts that have various injunctions that no one–including those who are profoundly observant–pays any attention to. For example, the Old Testament says that anyone who works on the Sabbath should be put to death. No one pays any attention to that. I could give dozens of examples of this from the Judeo-Christian tradition.

So I went to this page, which I am told is a legitimate source of information about the Hare Krishna position to which Sivarama Swami subscribes.

I found this within a matter of a minute (literally):

“Women, especially beautiful young women, invoke the dormant lusty desires of a man. Therefore, according to Manu-saṁhitā, every woman should be protected, either by her husband, by her father or by her grown sons. Without such protection, a woman will be exploited. (Srimad Bhagavatam—–8:9:9—–purport).”

“A woman is supposed to be always dependent—in her childhood she is dependent on her father, in youth on her husband, and in old age on her elderly sons. According to Manu-saṁhitā, she is never independent. Independence for a woman means miserable life. In this age, so many girls are unmarried and falsely imagining themselves free, but their life is miserable. (Srimad Bhagavatam—–9:9:32—–purport).”

“Because women are easily seduced, the Manu-saṁhitā enjoins that they should not be given freedom. A woman must always be protected, either by her father, by her husband, or by her elderly son. If women are given freedom to mingle with men like equals, which they now claim to be, they cannot keep their propriety. (Srimad Bhagavatam—–9:14:38—–purport).”

“As we learn from the history of the Mahābhārata, or “Greater India,” the wives and daughters of the ruling class, the kṣatriyas, knew the political game, but we never find that a woman was given the post of chief executive. This is in accordance with the injunctions of Manu-saṁhitā, but unfortunately Manu-saṁhitā is now being insulted, and the Āryans, the members of Vedic society, cannot do anything. (Srimad Bhagavatam—–10:4:5—–purport).”

Does Sivarama Swami teach these moral injunctions from scripture to those who follow him? Does he tell the women who come to his lectures that they should never be independent? Does he teach that it is wrong for women to hold political office? My guess is that he does not do so. I have been reading the Laws of Manu in preparation for the podcast that Sivarama Swami has committed to have and I am finding many, many things that I feel quite sure that Sivarama Swami does not teach as required or even permitted.

For example, Chapter 3 of the Laws of Manu state, among other injunctions:

“8. Let him not marry a maiden (with) reddish (hair), nor one who has a redundant member, nor one who is sickly, nor one either with no hair (on the body) or too much, nor one who is garrulous or has red (eyes).

9. Nor one named after a constellation, a tree, or a river, nor one bearing the name of a low caste, or of a mountain, nor one named after a bird, a snake, or a slave, nor one whose name inspires terror.

10. Let him wed a female free from bodily defects, who has an agreeable name, the (graceful) gait of a Hamsa or of an elephant, a moderate (quantity of) hair on the body and on the head, small teeth, and soft limbs.”

Does Sivarama Swami tell his male followers that they should not marry women with red hair, or too much or too little body hair, or who are ill? Does he advise against marrying those who have a name indicating low caste, or who have physical defects? My guess is that he does not.

So why is it that the consumption of milk occupies a different position? The only explanation is and can be that Sivarama Swami applies a standard other than what is found in scripture to determine what in scripture should be observed and what is not obligatory. Therefore, it’s not simply a matter of “what God says.” It’s a matter of what Sivarama Swami endorses or does not endorse. That is is the issue and I confess that his recorded statement did not help me to understand that at all. Indeed, it left me more confused!

Sivarama Swami says that we don’t ask the street whether the street wants us to walk on it or ask the potato whether it wishes that we rip it out of the ground to eat it. He points out that the potato is alive. That is true. But the potato is not sentient in that it does not have subjective experiences. And if there is no difference between using a cow to get dairy or eating a potato, why is it not okay to eat meat, which Sivarama Swami clearly condemns? That is, if it’s okay to drink milk because we eat potatoes, why is it not okay to eat meat? Milk–even “Ahimsa milk”–involves exploitation and killing.

I confess that I am very skeptical about Sivarama Swami’s claim that happy Hare Krishna cows give milk for 12 years after having a calf and without having another calf so there’s no need to worry about unneeded males being killed, which is standard in the dairy industry, even in India and even outside the intensive, commercial dairy industry. In order to give milk, cows must be pregnant. Some of the calves are male. They cannot give milk. They end being worked or they end up being veal.

I must add that I am completely confused by his statement that we don’t ask the street if the street wants us to walk on it. The street is not only not sentient but is not alive so I am not sure why Sivarama Swami thinks we should be consulting the street about anything. But, again, I am sure that we will discuss this issue in the podcast that Sivarama Swami has, through his administrative assistant, agreed to have with me and to which I am very much looking forward.

Professor Gary L. Francione

On Friday, September 8, 2017, Sivarama Swami produced another video promoting the consumption of dairy. I posted this:


Sivarama Swami has agreed to do a podcast discussion with me as soon as he has time. He has not had the time so far even though I am ready to do this at any time that is convenient. He has, however, had time to do (yet) another promotion of “Ahimsa milk.”–a “Part 2” video.

Sivarama Swami makes a number of points in this Part 2 video and I will not deal with them all at this time. I did, however, have some remarks.

In this video, Sivarama Swami says that if cows are not milked, it will cause them to suffer.

He misses the point in a rather significant way: the cow is only having to give milk because the cow is a dairy cow–a domesticated animal who has been impregnated and gives birth to a calf for whom she produces milk but where we take, consume, and sell what is claimed to be the excess milk. If we were vegans, there would be no need to milk the cow because we would not be exploiting the cow for milk in the first place. Sivarama Swami’s argument is no different saying that if we don’t cut off a person’s leg, he will suffer because his leg is seriously damaged and that we are doing a “good” thing by cutting off the leg, but neglecting to mention that it is we who damaged in his leg in the first place!

Sivarama Swami again repeats this claim that the “happy” cows continue to give milk many years after they give birth, and without the need for another pregnancy. I apologize to his Sivarama Swami but I am more–a great deal more–than skeptical about this claim. If Sivarama Swami’s claims were true, then there would be no more calves born and the Hare Krishnas could take, consume, and sell all of the milk.

Sivarama Swami says that there is no more a need for “consent” from the cow as there is in the case of getting human children to consent.

Again, Sivarama Swami misses the point. A child is not a domesticated animal owned by others, including parents. Cows are chattel property owned and exploited by humans. The Hare Krishnas may (and I say “may” very deliberately) be more benign slave owners. But let’s be clear: they are owners of the cows and bulls. Animal property can no more consent than human chattel slaves could.

Sivarama Swami again fails to identify any scriptural authority for the claim that consuming dairy is mandatory as a matter of religious duty. Sivarama Swami claims that it is “violence” not to exploit the cows for milk and the bulls for work. That claim is tantamount to the claim that consuming milk is mandatory. Given that Sivarama Swami is too busy to engage me on these issues now, and given that I am sincerely interested, I ask any of his followers to point me to support for the claim that consuming milk is mandatory.

And Sivarama Swami needs to explain whether he follows all of the very clear injunctions in Srimad Bhagavatam and Manusmriti, both of which I have been reading in preparation for the discussion that Sivarama Swami has agreed to have. There are some things in those works about eating flesh, and some things that are quite horribly sexist/misogynistic. If Sivarama Swami agrees with those things, then I think it will help us all to better understand Sivarama Swami means when he says he embraces Ahimsa. Frankly, if he does promote the idea that men should not marry women who are too hairy or not hairy enough, or have red hair, or are disabled, or that it is acceptable to eat certain meats in certain situations, then that would influence my views–and the views of others—about everything else he says.

If he does not agree with and promote those things, many of which are clearly mandatory, Sivarama Swami needs to explain to us all why he does not agree with or promote those mandatory things, but he promotes dairy, even though there does not seem to be any mandatory injunction to consume it in the texts that (from what I can tell) Hare Krishnas regard as authoritative. And even if dairy consumption were mandatory (making all Hare Krishnas who are vegans acting in violation of their religious duty), Sivarama Swami needs to explain to us why, and on what basis, some religious duties are accepted and some are rejected.

I certainly hope that Sivarama Swami will find time soon to have the discussion with me that he has assured me he will have.

Professor Gary L. Francione

I am looking forward to the podcast discussion to which Sivarama Swami has agreed to have. If he would like, we could include Dr. Yamini Narayanan of Deakin University who wrote a guest essay on Sivarama Swami’s position for this page.

I will update you as soon as Sivarmama Swami informs me of a time for us to do the podcast.


If you are not vegan, please go vegan. Veganism is about nonviolence. First and foremost, it’s about nonviolence to other sentient beings. But it’s also about nonviolence to the earth and nonviolence to yourself.

If animals matter morally, veganism is not an option — it is a necessity. Anything that claims to be an animal rights movement must make clear that veganism is a moral imperative.

Embracing veganism as a moral imperative and advocating for veganism as a moral imperative are, along with caring for nonhuman refugees, the most important acts of activism that you can undertake.

The World is Vegan! If you want it.

Learn more about veganism at

Gary L. Francione
Board of Governors Professor of Law, Rutgers University

©2017 Gary L. Francione

ADDENDUM, added September 12, 2017

Apparently, some followers of Sivarama Swami are upset that I have pointed to portions of Srimad Bhagavatam and the Laws of Manu that contain religious rules about women. They say that these rules about women have nothing to do with dairy or cows.

I apologize if anyone was offended but these followers are missing the point.

Sivarama Swami maintains that the consumption of milk is mandatory–it is something we must do in order to abide by what God wants. I am not sure that it is true that there is any such rule that makes the consumption of milk mandatory. But let’s assume that there is. There are many religious rules that tell us what God wants. For example, according to the scriptures, God wants men (or at least certain men) to do lots of other things, such as, according to texts that I believe are authoritative by the Hare Kishnas, not to marry redheaded women, hairy women, or women with physical infirmities. If Sivarama Swami does not promote these rules as rules that must be followed, then he needs to explain why he follows the rule that requires the consumption of dairy–assuming that there is such a rule in the first place.

I am sorry if any of Sivarama Swami’s followers are offended by my argument. There is nothing that is offensive about it–unless my request that one think critically about one’s beliefs is considered as offensive.

I am still waiting to hear when Sivarama Swami will do the podcast discussion with me that he has agreed to do and where we can discuss all of these issues. I am very concerned about the exploitation of cows and I assume that Sivarama Swami is as well. So I hope we will do it soon. It’s an important issue. I am ready as soon as he is.

Gary L. Francione Essay on the Interest Animals Have in Living

Here is our second essay in The title of the essay is: A ‘humanely’ killed animal is still killed – and that’s wrong.

We hope that you enjoy it and that it stimulates your thinking about the issue of the interest that animals have in continuing to live–apart from their interest in not suffering.

Our first Aeon essay was about domestication and “pet” ownership.


If you are not vegan, please go vegan. Veganism is about nonviolence. First and foremost, it’s about nonviolence to other sentient beings. But it’s also about nonviolence to the earth and nonviolence to yourself.

If animals matter morally, veganism is not an option — it is a necessity. Anything that claims to be an animal rights movement must make clear that veganism is a moral imperative.

Embracing veganism as a moral imperative and advocating for veganism as a moral imperative are, along with caring for nonhuman refugees, the most important acts of activism that you can undertake.

The World is Vegan! If you want it.

Learn more about veganism at

Gary L. Francione
Board of Governors Distinguished Professor, Rutgers University School of Law
Honorary Professor, University of East Anglia

Anna E. Charlton
Adjunct Professor, Rutgers University School of Law

©2017 Gary L. Francione & Anna E. Charlton

Guest Essay: The Himsa of Milking and Cow Protectionism: A Response to Swami Sivarama

In an essay written for this page, Dr. Yamini Narayanan, Senior Lecturer in International and Community Development at Deakin University, Melbourne, explains how Swami Sivarama has misinterpreted Hindu doctrine in his promotion of “Ahimsa milk.” The posting of this essay does not imply agreement with the views of the author as a general matter.


The Himsa of Milking and Cow Protectionism: A Response to Swami Sivarama

Dr. Yamini Narayanan

The exceptional fetishisation of the fecund, lactating mother cow in India’s dairying sector has, much like the insidious animal agriculture industry itself, woven itself into fabric of cultural and commercial life in India. The image of the butter-loving young boy-god Krishna, and the giving mother cow who diverts her lactation for her “human progeny”, is exploited by both commercial dairy interests and religious gaushalas, to promote the idea of cow milk as ahimsa and love. The name of the nation’s watershed dairy development program, Operation Flood, invokes the imagery of the great legend of the Churning of the Ocean of Milk, wherein a prosperous, white-skinned/milk-white upper-caste Hindu nation will flourish thanks to a milk surplus. “Mother Dairy”, a commercial enterprise to sell cow-based dairy products, is one of the landmark initiatives of Operation Flood, and owned by the National Dairy Development Board of India. A perfunctory Google image search shows that images of the young Krishna stealing butter are widely mobilised in dairy advertisements and logos. Dairies commonly bear the name of Krishna – Sri Krishna dairy, Sri Krishna Ghee and the Chennai-based conglomerate Sri Krishna Sweets to name just a few.

Photo: Abandoned male cattle of all ages can be seen throughout public spaces in Mathura, indicating the prolific breeding for dairying in the hundreds of gaushalas throughout the city.

Hinduism is rendered a vital resource to commercialise the cow, particularly through the popular Krishna tales. The devotees of Krishna – Vaishnavites – constitute the largest sect in India. During my three-year research into cow protectionism in India, I would repeatedly encounter temple priests and officials from ISKCON and other Krishna temples who would stridently resist the suggestion that consumption of cow milk constitutes profuse violence to the cows. Hungarian Hare Krishna devotee Sivarama Swami describes himself as a “veggie-vegan” fundamentally because, as he says, “I can’t give up milk products”. He resorts to quoting truisms to present milk sourced from Hare Krishna farms as “ahimsa” and obscure the violence to cows in which they are complicit, in the very name of cow protection. However, even aside from the ethical problems of animal farming, two key Hindu legends make clear that regardless of where and how the cow was “farmed”, the notion of “ahimsa milk” is fundamentally impossible as a matter of Hindu doctrine.

Photo: An abandoned old bull waits for sweets from devotees outside the Sri Krishna Janmasthan temple, the birthplace of Lord Krishna.

Krishna the god, Krishna the male calves

Krishna’s birth story reveals an extraordinary silence about his birth-mother, and there are vital unremarked similarities between the child-god Krishna, and the modern-day male calves in commercial dairies. In a striking parallel to dairy calves in modern factory farms, Krishna was born in prison, and was separated from his own incarcerated biological mother minutes after birth, prior to even receiving his first lactation. Krishna was lovingly raised by his adoptive human mother Yashodha – and the cows. The stories of Krishna celebrate lactation stories from his non-biological mothers, altogether ignoring any inconvenient reference to the anxiety and suffering of his biological mother, or indeed, potentially his own primordial ones, at the separation of child from mother.

Akin to the eulogisation of Krishna’s lactation from non-biological mothers, the tendency of humans as a species, and particularly in the case of Hindus, is to similarly celebrate the breast milk from cows who are designated their “mothers”. The wide significance of the cow and her milk in Hindu scriptures, and use of the cow’s milk for human consumption establishes – problematically – the cow as the mother of Hindus. The scriptures do selectively recognise the commercialisation of infant lactation as unethical because making it profitable immediately means violence for mother and child from whom the calf will be removed. Madhava in the Parashara (2.7) advises, “A Brahman should not sell such things as sesame or ghee, milk, or honey.” However, India’s dairy policies, which prolifically borrow from the milk mythologies of Hinduism as a commercialisation strategy, ignore the latent violence in the commodification of milk – as noted explicitly in the scriptures.

Crucially, the emotive symbolism of the Mother Cow and her outpouring of milk, serves a strategic nation-building narrative of an upper-caste Hindu Mother India. Indian feminists have long criticised the motherhood metaphor as deeply oppressive for women; Vanaja Dhruvarajan charges the eulogisation of Hindu women as ideal mother (and wife) as an oppressive strategy to keep feminised bodies in place, and as almost singularly responsible for their backward status.(1) Likewise, the exaltation of bovine bodies imposes on them the burden of maintaining an exceptionally patriarchal brand of ‘Hindu purity’. Cows, however, find themselves doubly oppressed as species, and symbols of patriarchal Hindu nationalism.

Photo: The Gauseva shop at the ISKCON temple in Mathura where the sale of dairy products is actively promoted as a cow protection activity.

Kali Yuga: age of delusion, declining dharma, and the suffering of the cow

According to the sequential order of events as depicted in the four epochs of Hindu time, human consumption of cow milk coincides with the decline of human morality in the second epoch – suggesting that in the first golden epoch of Satya Yuga where dharma was fully preserved, humans did not consume cow milk. As human morality declines in the Second Epoch, the Earth Mother suffers, and withdraws her fertility. Panic-stricken humans rush to Prthu, “the first king” and “the inventor of agriculture”(2) When Prthu intervenes on behalf of the humans, the earth-mother attempts to flee, disguised as her other form, the cow. The scriptures then describe Prthu’s subjugation and forcible milking of the earth-cow. In Wendy Doniger’s account, she describes aggression inflicted upon the earth-cow by Pṛthu. The cow is a reluctant giver, yielding only under fear of violence and death. As such, the milk is only a noble product when willingly offered, but is in fact “poison” when extracted under her duress:

…though she grants him all that he desires, he must first attack her aggressively; she flees from him and begs him not to kill her. Thus his relationship with this cow is ambivalent… Moreover, her milk itself is ambivalent. She yields nourishment for men and gods, but illusion for demons and poison for serpents.(3)

These accounts destabilise the image of the “mother” as empowered in making choices to “give” her progeny. They reinforce patriarchy through the implication that even the mother as powerful and vast as the earth-cow is subject to her human sons; feminist readings of goddess cults for instance note that the goddess depictions often work to “reassure the patriarchal fathers that despite the presence of the powerful mother, the status-quo remains unchanged”.(4)

Photo: Dairy cows and their calves from a nearby gaushala forage for food near the Sri Janmashtan temple.

In the last epoch – the current Kali Yuga –the cow most suffers as a result of human delusions, and erosion of the truth. In this Dark Age, the greatest deceptions come, ironically and grievously, from self-stated protectors of the cow. The criminalising of beef, a by-product of the dairy sector in India, as responsible for cow slaughter, advances the rhetoric of the cow-killing Muslims, and tactically frames beef as a Muslim product. In contrast, the “spiritually pure”, nourishing milk of native Indian breed cows is implicitly Hindu milk. In the light of Hinduism’s own sombre predictions about human delusion in the Kali Yuga, it would behove leaders like Swami Sivarama to reflect deeply and humbly on the traumas experienced by dairy animals globally.

To preserve Hinduism’s spirit of scientific inquiry, platitudes about ahimsa milk must be analysed against the mounting evidence of the violence to dairy cows through genetic interbreeding to escalate milk production, and the moral arguments of veganism that Swami Sivarama currently and inexplicably rejects. Otherwise in an unfortunate and willful malapropism, the Hare Krishnas, and Hindu sects more broadly, will be part of reinforcing a purely profit and greed-oriented industry narrative that views cows as a sacred resource, rather than cows and all animals as intrinsically sacred and valuable.

Photo: A magnificent abandoned Gir breed bull forages among the city’s waste.

(1) Dhruvarajan, Vanaja. 1990. Religious Ideology, Hindu Women, and Development in India. Journal of Social Issues 46 (3): 57-70.

(2) Daniélou, Alain. (1991). The Myths and Gods of India. Inner Traditions International, Rochester.

(3) Doniger, Wendy. (1976). The Origins of Evil in Hindu Mythology. Berkeley: University of California Press.

(4) Sankaran, C. (2014). Problems with feminine empowerment in goddess films: A feminist analysis of South Indian goddess films. Studies in South Asian Film & Media, 6(1), 3-22.

© 2017 Yamini Narayanan. All photos: Y. Narayanan